October 15, 2009
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama,
Over the past decade, Caribbean nationals deported from the United States have been handled akin to skeletons in the closets, tucked away in the sandy recesses of tropical paradise. Rather than receiving the treatment of the proverbial 'prodigal son' (or daughter), a returnee or deportee is stigmatized and labeled. But a rather unique opportunity exists to change the tide when you meet with heads of state from the fifteen-nation Caribbean community (CARICOM) later this fall in Washington, D.C.
In the aftermath of the Fifth Summit of the Americas, the headline in a Caribbean newspaper read 19 Jailbirds returned to T&T. According to the article in the Trinidad Express, the nationals were being sent back after having served time in U.S. prisons for crimes ranging from 'murder, to robbery and illegal possession of arms and ammunition'. Contrary to popular opinion, however, this is not the norm.
A recent report by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Immigration Detention Overview and Recommendations, reveals that the most common offenses committed by criminal aliens are those involving dangerous drugs, traffic offenses, simple assault, and larceny. Of the approximately 380,000 aliens held in immigration detention during Fiscal Year 2008, Caribbean nationals make up 4 percent of the population.
Today I am officially launching The Faces of Detention and Deportation: A Report on the Forced Repatriation of Immigrants from the English-speaking Caribbean, so as to put a human face to this travesty. I hope the report can serve as a template or guide as you convene with CARICOM leaders in Washington, D.C.
The report is also a humble attempt on my part to dispel the myth of the deportee as career criminal wreaking havoc on Caribbean society. Many deportees have gone on to lead rather productive lives, after re-adjusting to life in the country of their birth.
The issue of detention and deportation of Caribbean nationals will be with us for some time to come. What is desperately needed is a change in the mindset, approach and strategy when addressing the matter at hand. There's no better time to do so than now.
Arlene M. Roberts, Esq.